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Plugging into people power

Recruitment, training, and supervision of volunteers are the major concerns for church leaders, according to research among five denominations.

How about your church? Do you have all the workers you need?

A Gallup survey disclosed that each of the more than 10 million church volunteers in America averages 10 hours of service per month. In multiple-staff churches, there are 20 volunteers for each paid staff. In a smaller church, the ration is closer to 80 volunteers for each paid staff member ("Help Your Volunteers Make the Church Work"; Church Administration, August 1992, p. 23). Volunteers are indispensable in the church because they have God-given abilities, and they use their time and talents to meet others' needs.

Working with volunteers often requires greater leadership skills than working with paid staff. The test of true leadership is being able to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers so the organization can effectively fulfill its mission. The leader who can learn to plug into the power of volunteers can lead in any setting.

Jesus acknowledged the problem of recruiting workers. He told His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" (Luke 10:2, NIV). Although the church has always struggled to find workers, the attitude toward volunteerism in America is changing, and this is affecting the church.

Several cultural factors have contributed
to the current attitude toward volunteering in the church.

"What's in it for me" syndrome. People tend to view service in terms of "what's in it for me" instead of "what can I contribute." This thinking has invaded churches, and consequently they began to hire staff members to help recruit and place volunteers. The shift from lay volunteer to professional staff is part necessity and part prerogative. It is a trend that has a negative impact on the life and effectiveness of a church.

Working women. Once women did much of the volunteer work in the church. Today more than 50 percent of women work outside the home. Their jobs, combined with their responsibilities at home, leave less time for them to volunteer.

Less discretionary time. People tend to give only a certain amount of time to the church. Often their time is spent attending services rather than serving. If serving takes them away from a worship service or class, they are less inclined to volunteer.

Isolation of volunteers. Frequently the church has recruited volunteers to serve without considering their social, emotional, and spiritual needs. Sacrificing fellowship, spiritual renewal, and corporate worship experiences can leave people disillusioned, burned out, and cautious about volunteering.

An increased focus on self. People often think more about themselves than about others. Asked to give of their time, resources, or abilities with little personal benefit in return, they find volunteering less appealing.

A decreased orientation toward organizations. People tend not to commit to an organization, institution, or program but to a cause or project that is appealing or challenging. People won't commit to Sunday school just because it is there. They need to know what is happening and why. They prefer to commit to a specific project for a short time rather than a long-term commitment.

Fear and anxiety. People often feel unprepared to do tasks. When we ask people to serve, we must properly equip them to do the job. They also often fear that they will be stuck with a job for life if they say yes. Every job should be for a specific time limit.

Lack of prayer. Jesus told His disciples to "pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers" (Matthew 9:38, NKJV). A church that needs workers should be a praying church, stirred by the needs of people. Individuals will then be motivated to serve. The level of dedication and commitment is often directly related to the church's spiritual climate. A church without passion will find it difficult to recruit workers.

How can we plug into the power of the people
God has given us to work with?

Here are some steps a leader can take to develop that potential:

1. Give dignity and value to every task. No task is insignificant if it is helping to accomplish a shared vision. Leaders can give significance to an unseen task by helping the worker see how it fits into the big picture. Each task should be viewed with eternal perspective. A Sunday school teacher can determine the destiny of the next generation. A helper in a nursery class is a caregiver to God's children. A class host or hostess in God's house offers God's love and welcome to all.

2. Clearly define and communicate expectations. People need to know what is expected before they volunteer. For instance, a teacher needs to know you expect him to attend staff meetings, to be in class before the first student arrives, and to enroll people in his class. He needs to know the expectations before he agrees to take the position.

3. Provide sufficient training and resources to do the job. If we tell workers what we expect of them, they need to know what they can expect from us. Training is a must. Teachers need to work toward certification, and other workers need training appropriate to their tasks. The church is the most important institution in the world; yet we often do not make quality a priority.

4. Place people in the proper positions. Asking someone to teach who doesn't have the ability is a sure way to fail. A Ministry Discovery Assessment may help identify where people are best suited to serve. (See "Discovering Ministry Gifts," Sunday School Counselor, June 1992.)

5. Remain in contact with your volunteers. Never recruit someone for a job and then forget about him. Frequently ask how things are going, what problems and issues are occurring, and how you can help. Hold a conference with workers to talk about things. Work to create a team effort and atmosphere.

6. Don't overmanage. Leaders may have a certain way they do things or a way they want them done. This can cause us to overmanage those people who work with us. There are many different ways to do things, and other ways are often as good or better. Once we have given someone a task, explained our expectations, and trained him for the job, let him do it. Volunteers grow through experience. They may make mistakes, but we must give them space to grow.

7. Don't let your volunteers fail. Don't assign someone a task at which he is certain to fail. This demoralizes and destroys people. We need to help them succeed at what they have agreed to do so they will feel good about their contribution and accomplishment. If a person has a bad experience in volunteering, he is less likely to volunteer again.

8. Stay backstage. What we appreciate increases in value. Continually put your workers in the light. Honor them, compliment them, award them, and recognize them. Volunteers need to have visibility to the church so others will realize their value.

9. Don't overuse your workers. In many churches 20 percent or fewer of the people do 80 percent of the work. It is easy to overwork those who are willing to work. Studies show that those who are will ultimately burn out. Many people are serving in three to six roles. Leaders need to be sensitive to this and guard against it by having a plan for training and developing new workers constantly.

10. Pray regularly and specifically for volunteers. Be sensitive to their needs and struggles. People need to know that you really care about them. They need to know you are praying for them. Spiritual credibility increases a leader's effectiveness and causes volunteers to be more motivated. Lead by example in your own prayer and devotional life.

As a church leader, you have all the people and resources you need to do what God wants you to do now. You can fulfill God's will if you plug into the power and potential of the people He has placed around you.

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